Whorf, Benjamin Lee

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Whorf, Benjamin Lee

(hwôrf), 1897–1941, American linguist and anthropologist, b. Winthrop, Mass. Although he was trained in chemical engineering and worked for an insurance company, Whorf made substantial contributions to Mayan and Aztec linguisticslinguistics,
scientific study of language, covering the structure (morphology and syntax; see grammar), sounds (phonology), and meaning (semantics), as well as the history of the relations of languages to each other and the cultural place of language in human behavior.
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. He collaborated with Edward SapirSapir, Edward
, 1884–1939, American linguist and anthropologist, b. Pomerania. Sapir was brought to the United States in 1889. After teaching at the Univ. of California and the Univ.
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 at Yale Univ. in anthropological linguistics, and helped to develop the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis. Also known as the linguistic relativity principle, the theory argues against the view that the categories and distinctions of any given language are natural and given by external reality. Instead, it posits language as a finite array of formal (lexical and grammatical) categories that group an infinite variety of experiences into usable classes, vary across cultures, and, as a guide to the interpretation of experiences, influence thought.


See Whorf's selected writings, Language, Thought, and Reality (1959).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Whorf, Benjamin Lee


Born Apr. 24, 1897, in Winthrop, Mass.; died July 26, 1941, in Wethersfield, Conn. American linguist and anthropologist.

Whorf graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1918 as a chemical engineer. In 1926 he began to study the relationship between language and thought, as well as the American Indian and Semitic languages. His early works dealt with the decipherment and linguistic interpretation of the Maya writing system, which in his innovative view was based partly on a phonetic principle. Under the influence of E. Sapir and as a result of his own studies of the Uto-Aztecan languages (especially Hopi), Whorf formulated a hypothesis of linguistic relativity that became known as the Whorfian hypothesis. Whorf contributed to the theory of grammatical categories in that he was the first to differentiate overt and covert categories in language.


The Phonetic Value of Certain Characters in Maya Writing. Cambridge, Mass., 1933.
Language, Thought, and Reality, 2nd ed. Cambridge, Mass., 1966.


Zvegintsev, V. A. “Teoretiko-lingvisticheskie predposylki gipotezy Sepira-Uorfa.” In the collection Novoe v lingvistike, fasc. 1. Moscow, 1960.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Whorf, Benjamin Lee

(1897–1941) linguist, chemical engineer; born in Winthrop, Mass. After receiving his B.S. in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1918), he began a lucrative lifelong career at the Hartford Fire Insurance Company (1919–41), where he specialized in fire hazards and prevention. In 1925 he renewed a childhood interest in Central America and in 1930 he traveled to Mexico. In 1931 he enrolled in Edward Sapir's American Indian linguistics course at Yale University. Through his work in comparative linguistics in studies of Hebrew, Mayan, Aztec, and Hopi languages and cultures, he developed the "Whorf-Sapir hypothesis"—that the grammatical structure of a language affects the culture of its speakers by conditioning the ways in which they think.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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El libro muestra con exito como Kuhn forjo paulatinamente una vision del lenguaje cientifico que se nutrio de Quine, Wittgenstein y Whorf. Dicha vision se basa en el holismo semantico y en la idea de que el uso de lenguaje no descansa en la aplicacion de un conjunto de reglas, sino en la eficacia pragmatica para desarrollar conductas linguisticas eficaces en la interaccion con el medio.
The quotation belonging to Benjamin Lee Whorf is very eloquent in this context: "You might think that "tree" means the same thing, everywhere and to everybody.
"Sapir-Whorf hypothesis" is in fact a misnomer, since Edward Sapir, as pointed out by Sampson (1980), was not one of the proponents of the hypothesis, but rather a mentor of Whorf's, whose general approach the latter adopted.
* La cultura es comunicacion (Sapir, 1985; Whorf, 1956).
Ever since the emergence of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (Whorf 1956), countless studies have highlighted the interrelationship between culture and language, (Kramsch 1998; Brown 2000; Mitchell & Myles 2004; Liddicoat, Papademetre, Scarino & Kohler 2003).
The third chapter draws on the work of Kant, Saussure, and Whorf and turns to the question of whether philosophical relativism is in principle anthropocentric.